The Disparate Society
Despite common antecedents among Mexican border communities, social disparities there, as in the rest of the republic, go from one extreme to the other. In the Forbes 500 list of multibillionaires, there are twenty-four Mexican families that together are worth over $44 billion, or the equivalent of Mexico's national budget for 1990. In a country where over 20 million people face hunger daily and, even by official statistics, another 40 million are poor, this lopsided distribution of wealth is a moral scandal— but neither is it terribly novel. From the Spanish conquest on, when the cross and the sword of the Europeans bent ancient Anáhuac to their will, the poor, usually bronze of skin and racially more Indian than Spanish, carry the burdens of Mexico, the victims of man's inhumanity to man.
Affluence along the border tilts from west to east: Tijuana boasts the highest per capita income; take-home pay, as well as wealth, tends to drop as one approaches the Gulf of Mexico. But there are pockets everywhere of families rolling in luxury. in Carlos Fuentes's novel La Frontera de Cristal, the character Michelina, a young woman from Mexico City, recalls in astonishment that the chauffeur drove the family's big Mercedes up to huge wrought-iron gates "seen only in Hollywood films," through the entrance to one of sundry walled-in mansions ridiculed by local natives as Disneylandia—"half fortresses, half mausoleums"—this one with the neoclassical columns of Tara, the legendary manor of Gone with the Wind. The garages opened automatically, their "floors soiled only by the oil drippings of Porches, Mercedes, and BMWs." The estate belonged to a power